from Book XI of the Opera Poetica

by Venantius Fortunatus / translation by Maria den Boer & James DenBoer

Venantius Honorarius Clementianus Fortunatus was born ca. 540 CE, near Treviso, Italy. He traveled to the Frankish kingdoms in order to worship at the shrine of St. Martin of Tours, whom Venantius felt had healed him of an eye infection. There he soon ingratiated himself into the various courts of so-called “kings,” many of them simply warring brothers and cousins and uncles. Helen Waddell compares him to Gulliver at the court of the giants. Venantius was taken under the wing of Queen Radegunde, who had left her husband Lothar to establish the Convent of the Holy Cross in Poitiers, with her adopted ward Agnes as Abbess, and Fortunatus as a spiritual adviser, admirer, and “pampered household pet,” according to one scholar. We have translated the 25 poems of Book Eleven of Fortunatus’s Opera Poetica, most of them personal poems, and quite unlike the longer hagiographies and political poems of his other books. Here he is seen as gourmand, somewhat bibulous, full of human faults, but charming and helpful and dedicated to his friends. After Queen Radegunde’s death in 587, Venantius became a priest, and eventually bishop of Poitiers, in which office he died in 610 CE.

XIX. Pro aliis deliciis et lacte

Inter multiplices epulas ieiunia mittis
atque meos animos plura videndo cremas.
respiciunt oculi medicus qoud non iubet uti,
et manus illa vetat qoud gula nostra rogat.
attamen ante aliud cum lactis opima ministras,
muneribus vincis regia dona tuis.
nunc cum matre pia gaudens soror esto, precamur:
nam nos laetitiae mensa benigna tenet.

XX. Pro ovis et prunis

Hinc me deliciis, illinc me pascitis herbis,
hinc ova occurunt, hinc mihi pruna datur.
candida dona simul praebentur et inde nigella:
ventre utinam pax sit sic variante cibo!
me geminis ovis iussistis sero cibari;
vobis vera loquor: quattor ipse bibi.
atque utinam merear cunctis parere diebus
sic animo, ceu nunc hoc gula iussa facit.

XXIIa. Item de eandem re

Deliciis variis tumido me ventre tetendi,
omnia sumendo: lac holus ova butur.
nunc instructa novis epulis mihi fercula dantur,
et permixta simul dulcius esca placet.
nam cum lacte mihi posuerunt inde buturum:
unde prius fuerat, huc revocatur adeps.

19. For Another Gift of Milk

Among all these dishes, must I fast?
My soul brightens with all the things set before me—
all these foods my doctor orders me not to touch;
his hand keeps me from what my cravings demand!
Among everything else, this wonderful milk,
with which you surpass even the King’s favors.
Remember, my sister and my revered mother,
for us this table is most blessed
with lively conversation and friendliness.

20. White Eggs, Black Plums

One of you gives me tasty treats,
from the other I receive delightful fruits—
one sends eggs, from the other I get plums.
White gifts, black gifts, both just for me.
How can my stomach find peace
with all this rich food? Two eggs
were for me to eat now; to tell the truth,
I have tipped down four of them.
If only I deserved all the things that refresh
my very being every day—
as today, when I am a glutton at your command!

22a. Fat

My belly is already swollen with many different dishes;
I have eaten them all—milk, greens, eggs, butter—
now another feast is being prepared,
more platters are set out,
more choice dishes are arranged before me.
They will serve me milk, then butter—
yes, more of this food: at bottom, it’s all fat!